CTC’s “In the Presence of My Enemies” at CAT Theatre

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Carmel Theatre Company’s production of June McCarty Clair’s newest play, In the Presence of My Enemies opened on the Cat Theatre stage this weekend. The promising script, which is Ms. Clair’s fifth offering – the first four being musicals – is directed by her husband, John Clair, and contains themes of grief and greed with a smattering of chaos.

This is the story of Sarah, recently widowed, who must face the tasks of making choices for her late husband’s funeral, while she deals with the children from his first marriage, whose objectives seem less than totally honorable. There are lessons in proper preparation here, which make the script a worthwhile endeavor, though I feel the writing is not yet in its best and final form.

Though the play is not overly long, in its two-act format it suffers a bit from having a single linear storyline. All the nuances of grief and conflict are done and redone to a point where, to my sensibilities, we begin seeing repetitions that do not score well. Perhaps a secondary storyline of some sort may be in order. If not, the play might have played better in its one hour length, which recently appeared at this year’s Diva Fest. I believe Ms. Clair is onto a valid and worthy examination of these human foibles, grief and greed, but some tweaking of the action might be beneficial.

The presentation likewise suffered from what I sensed was an under-preparedness by the cast. Missed cues, stops and starts, overtalking, line gaps – all appeared at times. It seemed the players were a good 3 or 4 days from readiness, and thus the show was less cohesive and smooth than I expect it will be later in the run.

Carmel Theatre Company’s In the Presence of My Enemies is offered at The CAT through June 30th. Information about tickets can be found at https://tinyurl.com/my-enemies

Carmel Theatre Company & Approxima Production’s “Circumstantial Holidays”

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Oh, what fun it is to watch a new play filled with friends!

Carmel Theatre Company and Approxima Productions have joined forces to present local actress/playwright Christine Kruze’s Circumstantial Holidays at The CAT in downtown Carmel. Mrs K and I were in attendance for the world premiere/opening night, and the four character show is indeed cast with familiar faces.

Circumstantial Holidays is a straight comedy, linear in design, with a whole lot of things going on in it. Its plot is multi-layered, to say the least. The action all takes place at a New Years Eve party. We first meet Erin (Carrie Ann Schlatter), a recent divorcée who finds herself in an uncomfortable entanglement with her date, Alex (Joshua C. Ramsey). He seems to have concluded that she is “the one”, and introduces her to all his friends as such. Erin has no similar feelings for the man or their future. In fact – she is not looking for a future with anyone, having just figured out how to get along on her own. Enter Justin (Clay Mabbitt), a seemingly low-rent guy in an ugly shirt. He overhears Erin talking about her problem and seems to be sympathetic about what a mess she is in, offering helpful and clever ideas on how to survive it. However, Justin is in his own situation, having promised to portray a gay friend’s lover at the party so that the friend, Troy (Matt Anderson) can cause a jealous reaction in his ex-boyfriend. The plotline is a complicated tangle, but the players do a fine job keeping things straight.

from left: Carrie Ann Schlatter as Erin and Clay Mabbitt as Justin in a scene from “Circumstantial Holidays”

Ms. Schlatter offers an honest portrayal of the put-upon Erin, never losing sight of her character’s predicament, and underplaying her angst, which works well. Mr. Ramsey has the puffed up “I’m a catch” Alex in his back pocket, an extension of a character I have seen him play before, but it is a genuinely perfect fit here. Mr. Mabbitt is a quiet understated Justin, funny and likable, mostly resigned to his agreement to play against his true nature to help his friend. His denouement with Erin comes as no surprise, really. Commendably, Mr. Anderson sheds all stereotyping is his role as the gay Troy – who comes off with the throes of jealousy and the need to outdo his ex’s current love interest as his main catalysts.

from left: Matt Anderson as Troy and Joshua C. Ramsey as Alex in a scene from “Circumstantial Holidays”

The ensemble, such as it is (there is only one scene when all 4 actors share the stage), works well together, and as the majority of scenes are twosomes, we get to see a nice variety of combinations of characters – all of which hold together nicely. The pace and tempo are set into place by Ms. Kruze, who directs the show – the ebbs and flows all making good sense. There is an overall natural feel emanating from this group, whom I know have had plenty of experiences onstage together. 

As for the script itself, I enjoy how it shows four very diverse approaches to relationships – each character having their own distinct beliefs and styles for getting what they seek. I also like that Ms. Kruze has offered a plausible, yet unusual, set of circumstances to examine those differing beliefs. The play involves at least 5 different romantic couplings, which makes for an interesting 90 minutes. On the flip side, I question the quick and comfortable chumminess that Erin and Justin find at the top of the show. It rings false somehow and foreshadows some of what happens later with too much clarity. But that is my one small negative critique. The play is entertaining and smart, modern, and reflective of what many of us have been through in our lives.

Bottomline: It’s always great to see several friends whose work I admire playing on stage together and Circumstantial Holidays provides a wonderful vehicle for their assembled talents. Ms. Kruze should be proud of what she has accomplished here. And we look forward to seeing her other endeavors.

Circumstantial Holidays is offered at The CAT through Dec. 8th. Information about tickets can be found at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3584886.